domingo, mayo 21, 2006

entrevista con Kaufman

Interesante lo q planteo el Los Angeles Times hace unos días. Es un guionista un escritor? Debe ser considerado parte del canon? Es más importante que el director? Que es, a la larga, una película: imágenes o textos. O acaso es el texto el que es capaz de crear las imágenes (por ahí va la cosa). Sin duda esto da para un debate largo, y espero que en la Alberto Hurtado, donde estamos debatiendo estas cosas, surga el tema. Muy contento con volver a clases, mas allá que me toca estar al frente un par de veces. Capto que para hacer cine, tal como para escribir, tb hay que leer, ir al cine, hablar de cine, leer a críticos. No sé: ahora que PERDIDO se rodará en abri, siento que puedo aprender mucho más leyendo a Quintin, a Daney, a Soto--- quizás la verdadra preparación para un film fusiona lo visual (locacionar, locacionar, locacionar; crear complcidad con los actores) con leer y ver cine que te "descoloque" y te haga replanteartelo todo y, sin duda, leer y hablar sobre temas ligados al tema de tu película.

OK-- aquí va una entrevista, no un perfil, a Kaufman. Ire posteando otras puesto que ando leyendo entrevistas a más guionista pues que tengo que preparar una clase sobre dialogos.



Since the spec market boom of the '80's, literally hundreds of books and articles have been written on the subject of storytelling, each promising to unveil the secrets to writing what sells. The three-act structure, character motivation and thematic devices have been dissected, analyzed and prepack­aged in books and software as if good stories could be mass-produced. About a dozen screenwriting gurus make a handsome living teaching writers to fol low their formula to success. Just follow the "mythic structure" and name a "pro­tagonist" and an "antagonist," then pick a theme, and voila! The byproduct of this assembly line method is tens of thousands of screenplays that lack origi nality and substance.

When BEING JOHN MALKOVICH was released in 1999, many in the industry took notice. Although Charlie Kauf man's film followed the traditional three-act structure it broke many of the established storytelling conventions, which had the gurus busy for weeks mapping out the story and forcing it into their paradigms. As further proof that Kaufman's screenwriting debut was groundbreaking; the film was nominat ed for a Golden Globe, an Independent Spirit Award and an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Originally from Long Island, Kaufman went to New York University Film School before moving to Los Angeles in 1991. He got his start in television, writ ing for the Chris Elliot series Get a Life, in 1990. Then in 1995 he wrote for Ned and Stacey and in 1996 wrote several episodes of The Dana Carvey Show. Kaufman made the transition to fea tures by writing a number of spec screenplays including CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, an adaptation of The Gong Show's Chuck Barris' memoir, which was named Best Unproduced Screenplay by Entertainment Weekly. The film is currently in production with George Clooney in his directorial debut. Shortly before the platform release of his latest feature, HUMAN NATURE, we talked with Charlie Kaufman about writing the unconventional movie and somehow getting it made.

When you write a screenplay there will inevitably be changes during the production and post-produc tion process. For your scripts, which are so intricately structured and multi-layered, changes must be have been particularly difficult to do.
You shoot the movie and then you look at it and you assemble it, and you look at it, and there are things that don't work the way you'd hoped or things that you don't need or the movie is way too long which [BEING JOHN MALKOVICH] was. The way it was shot it needed to be cut by like an hour and a half, so we had to make changes. Then once you make those decisions you have to figure out different ways to reinsert information that you definitely need so that people aren't more confused than they are already going to be with that movie (laughs). I think for me, since that was my first experience, I was a little bit freaked out with the post-production process, but I made the decision that, 'okay, this is what we have to work with and now how can I be of service in making what we have as good as it can be?' Once I adopted that frame of mind it became kind of fun, because then you find con nections and you find things that you hadn't expected that now fit together in ways that are exciting. Editing is just more writing.

Serving as producer of the project in both of your films at least gives you some measure of control of the vision.
I think it did, but with MALKOVICH I was an executive producer and that was really only a title I was given sort of as an honor after the [film] was made because of the help I'd been to them.

What was more to the point was that Spike [Jonze] and I had a very good collaborative relationship and he wanted me involved, and then again with HUMAN NATURE I was an official producer, but it was because of the relationship that Michel [Gondry] and I had that I could influence things. I wasn't going to go in there and be a dictator even if I could.

In both films you've worked with first time directors, is there an advantage?
I guess the advantage might be that they might be more interested in collaborat ing with you. I don't know. I haven't worked with any director whose made a movie before. CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND went through a couple of directors before it ended up with [George] Clooney. Originally it was PJ. Hogan who'd made My BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING and MURIEL'S WEDDING and he was somewhat more experienced and he was a great guy to work with, and then it looked like David Fincher was going to do it. I had a couple of meetings with him and he seemed like a good guy to work with. I think maybe when push comes to shove with more experienced directors you might find yourself shut out. I've cer tainly heard those stories.

How do you go about pitching an unusual project like HUMAN NATURE or do you even try?
It wasn't necessary with MALKOVICH or HUMAN NATURE because they were written as spec scripts that I sent around. They were being passed around for maybe three or four years before anyone expressed any interest in making them. When it came to it, it was people who had read the script. It would be hard. I have these inter views now and people say, 'Well, how would you describe HUMAN NATURE?' and I don't have a clue what to say. I can sort of make something up that sounds okay, but I'm glad I don't have to do that to try to get the movie made.

So obviously you prefer writing on spec.
It's a good thing to do because there are no expectations and you can go any where you want, which I try to do any way even with an assignment. But there are people who are waiting, and they're people who have hired you to do a cer­tain thing. I did this script called ADAPTATION because I was hired to write an adapta tion of a book and I kind of went off course. Without telling anyone I wrote this other movie, which worked out but it might not have (laughs). It could have been a very bad thing for me.

You can still find inspiration even in a writer-for-hire gig?
Well, I have to otherwise I don't know what to do. I've taken a few assignments and fortunately I've never had to be a writer-for-hire, in the sense that I've taken things that I was really interested in. I've worked on TV shows and I've done shows that I needed to do because I needed the work and I didn't have any interest in it. It's definitely not as much fun, but even on those you try to do something original. You try to bring something of yourself to it anyway.

You started out as a sitcom writer before making the transition to features; do you plan to return to television at some point?
I've thought about going back to televi sion-by the time I got my first job in television it was such a relief that I was working as a writer because it was a long time coming. So I liked it in that sense, and then as the years went by and I was writing pilots and trying to get them produced, I realized there wasn't really an opportunity in television for the kind of stuff that I wanted to do. I got disenchanted.

Now maybe I can go back and have more authority or at least have people be more interested. I've thought about it. I do like it, but the hours are bad. When I was working on sitcoms I'd work 80 or 90 hours a week and I might do that anyway, but I do it at home now and I do it on my own terms as opposed to being in a room with six other writers and that being your life.

Comedy is tough to do, especially when you have to concentrate on being funny for 80 or 90 hours, as you've described. How do you manage to churn out funny mate­rial under pressure?
You do because you have to, and maybe the quality suffers, I don't know. Certainly there are a lot of crappy sit coms (laughs), but I think you do it. There's kind of a point when it's the day before you're shooting and it's two in the morning when you get punch drunk. At least to my mind some of the funnier stuff starts to happen in the room. It's a grind; it's definitely a grind.

You have a number of scripts in various stages of development at many of the major studios. Is there a great deal of pressure on you now like in television to get things done?
There's been a lot of pressure because things started to happen kind of on top of each other so I was writing a few things at once. With the studios so far my situation has been pretty comfort able. Everyone's been respectful. I don't get a lot of stupid notes. It's not like the kind of notes that you get from the net work when we work in TV which are really hard and silly. It's not like we're trying to do a generic family comedy or something. People know it's going to be odd so they sort of stand back and let it happen a little bit.

Is it because they already know your sensibility?
I think so, maybe, or maybe they don't know what to say so they're just being trusting. I guess that could all change, but right now it's been pretty good.

HUMAN NATURE is funny, quirky, but dark and it does not have the typical Hollywood ending. Did you even think in the back of your mind about the possibility of turn ing off that person at the studio who could ultimately greenlight the project, but might not because it's too dark or the subject matter might be considered offensive?
I don't think about it. In the case of HUMAN NATURE and MALKOVICH I didn't have any expectations that they would be made so I was writing what I was interested in at the time. That gave me a lot of freedom. Since then, I kind of feel like I need to maintain that integrity in my work. I don't want to put stuff out there that I don't believe is correct so I'm not interested in selling something [like that]. That could all change if I need work in a couple of years and no one is interested in the stuff I'm doing. I will probably have to make a living but right now I feel like I have an opportunity to really try to do the stuff that I want to do. I feel if I have the opportunity I should take advantage of it. So I don't think about offending the greenlighting people. If they don't want to make it, then they don't have to.

How do you get these unique ideas?
I don't know where I get my ideas. I think about what I'm thinking about at that time and what's going on in my life or what my concerns are, and I find a certain tone that I'm thinking about, and then I sort of build on it and I leave it open as I'm working to discover something else, to discover more things... characters and situations and if it feels funny to me or right or scary, I kind of feel like I'm on to something. And so I stay with it. I think those are the things to not shy away from-what your gut reactions are to what you're doing. What is really scary about this as a character or as a writer? If you feel like you shouldn't be doing something then you sort of want to do it.

How structured are your stories when you're writing?
They're not very structured. I think the structuring comes as I'm writing, I kind of go back and if I figure out something on page 40 that is important to me, then I might have to go back and change page lO in order to begin the process of getting to that. So you start adding stuff in the beginning and then the structure starts to find itself.

I take a lot of notes. I do a lot of think ing when I write. I have ideas; I have things that I want to try to put together. But a lot of times I find that I can only get to a certain point until I start writing dialogue even if the story does n't seem ready for me to go to that step. I start to do it anyway and I find char acter traits by having characters talk to each other and that helps me kind of get a better idea of where the story is going to go. I don't do the three-act structure thing. I don't really know what it is exactly, although I've been told by peo­ple that I adhere to it, so I don't know. But maybe people just want to see that because they don't want to think that someone's not doing it. So they say, 'Oh, he's doing it anyway.' I've seen that comment like, 'Oh, yeah, on page thirty in MALKOVICH it's exactly where it should be.' Well if it is, it's kind of a coincidence or an accident maybe. It certainly wasn't conscious.

Then structure just comes natural ly to you -
Maybe it's because I'm conditioned in the same way as everybody else. But I wouldn't map it out that way, it would n't occur to me to do that.

In BEING JOHN MALKOVICH you have a puppeteer as a main charac ter and in HUMAN NATURE it's a behaviorist. While most movies go with the standard businessman or some other familiar occupation, you present people in jobs we've never seen before.
Part of it is because they're funny to me. With Craig [John Cusack] in MALKOVICH I wanted him to be an artist, but I wanted him to have some kind of an odd art form. I like puppetry, especially the kind that he does which is the very sensitive stuff, but it's also kind of funny to me to be in this world where there was actually a need for that kind of stuff. He's got this nemesis who is this amazingly successful puppeteer that is someone who doesn't exist in the world as we know it. I'd been reading about behaviorism for Nathan [Tim Robbins] in HUMAN NATURE. I was reading about it first and then I was reading about this guy, John Watson, who is considered the father of behaviorism and his sort of torture experiments. I found that it served this particular story about the natural world, and civilization and stuff, to have some one who was training the nature out of these animals. It was all a bit tongue-in cheek too. I'm more playing with these ideas than I am having a serious discus sion about them I think.

There are scenes in BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and in HUMAN NATURE that are tough to visualize. Did you think when you were writing these scenes about how they were going to work?
There were a few things when people would say that this movie will never get made. One of them was, 'you're never going to find an actress who is going to be willing to do this to herself and how are you going to do the mice?' We did n't know. Early on we were talking about puppets and stuff. But we had this company called BUF where Michel Gondry had done a lot of work for his videos and commercials and they fig ured out a way to do it. We decided we wanted it to be as realistic as possible so that it wouldn't be like a jokey version of mice using the forks. We tried to keep it as close to what would be possi ble as we could. They figured it out and it didn't seem to be that much of a problem for them.

Another problem you faced was the nudity in HUMAN NATURE and the whole issue of sex that would have the MPAA looking to give the film an NC-17 rating.
We certainly were contractually obligat ed to bring in an R picture. When it came to the rating and the rating board looked at it, they objected to one thing in the movie. There is a scene in the movie where Puff goes into a porno booth to masturbate; he's watching a little video screen and the image on the video screen was apparently too explicit so we had to go back and fudge that image a bit. That was the only thing that they objected to, that was the only thing that was going to give us an NC-17 so we changed it.

The hardest thing about this movie is in promoting it. The movie is an R, but the trailers have to be G and all the jokes in the movie are sort of sexual. Our trailer-and I think it works out okay, but it was frustrating because this funny moment and this funny moment, and this funny moment we can't use, and that became very complicated. I don't know what the rules are for R and I guess going in the people who know those things must have been comfortable that we would get an R because we did.

At a time when many Hollywood films dumb down for the audience, you take a rather complex idea and you build on it rather than simpli fy it for mass consumption.
I think the movies that I've done and the movies that I seem to be doing, there are these budgetary concerns and I think that is because they're not going to be able to sell it to mass audiences, and they want to keep costs low and that's fine with me, I prefer that. It's a much easier environment to work in. I have no interest in making a block buster movie because I think that there are almost always not interesting.

A couple of things in this movie CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND had to be changed a little bit and that was a studio thing, and Warner Bros. at the time and then later Miramax both objected to a certain element in the movie that had to be taken out. I was frustrated with it, but I had no control. It's not mine. I wrote it as an assignment so I voiced my protest and then had to let it go.

Whoever is providing the budget makes the ultimate decision.
And it wasn't even a rating thing it was more like we don't want to do anything that's offensive to anybody in the world. That is the mindset of those people. You say what you need to and then you try to do smaller and smaller budget movies, and have less and less interfer ence from people like that. That's my goal.

Do you have any closing thoughts or advice that you'd like to share?
Figure out how to get an agent. That's the thing that I didn't understand and that certainly has made all the difference in my ability to get work. I could not get anyone to read anything for years and years. For some reason I thought that I could do this without an agent and I just couldn't. [Having an agent] gives you some kind of credibility or something. It is the thing that opened the door.

Previously published in Screenwriter Magazine.